Buzzfeed Spreads Content Around Like Butter On Toast

Native advertising is a stupid name for a decent development in media circles. Regardless, sponsored content is on a lot of media and marketing minds today, because online advertising is a disaster from a brand building perspective.

Does Buzzfeed Know the Secret? -- New York Magazine

Native is definitely on the mind and the desktop of Jonah Peretti, MIT grad and co-founder of BuzzFeed and Huffington Post.

Andrew Rice, writing for New York Magazine, reports that “beneath BuzzFeed’s cheery gloss lies a data-driven apparatus designed to figure out what makes you click.”

Peretti doesn’t care whether a post is produced by a journalist or sponsored by a brand, so long as it travels. He’s a semiotic Darwinist: He believes in messages that reproduce.

“To me, advertising is fascinating, partly because it’s part of culture, and partly because it sucks,” he told me one evening in February. “There’s a bit of the geek mentality, which is that when you see something that’s broken, you try to fix it.”

Of course, Buzzfeed is also home to Mark Duffy, a.k.a. Copyranter. Duffy’s lastest offering: 18 Meat Ads. It’s not highbrow content, but it is network-friendly; therefore, it is money.

Let’s revisit the infamous words of A.J. Leibling, “Fortune lies not in the main stream of letters, but in the shallows where the suckers moon.”

I’m not making a judgement, merely an observation, and one I might learn from. Buzzfeed has millions of readers, AdPulp has thousands. If we were to take a page from the Buzzfeed book, we’d start posting tons of lightweight “contagious” material, which would then coexist with our thought pieces and original reporting.

Of course, doing so would also take us way off-brand, and remove us from our Reasons Why. The things we have to do to make money these days…

Previously on AdPulp: Can Journalism As A Civic Good And Native Advertising Live Side-by-Side?

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. David, native advertising is PR. It’s not new. Do you know how much PR controls the news? That’s why it’s called earned media. Also, journalists, especially lifestyle journalists are lazy. Buzzfeed spreads bullshit like butter, that’s a better headline. Does Jonah Peretti have data on who clicks what and when? Does he know me and my interests, education, gender and age? Can he parse that data and make something out of it? Does he know why Harlem Shake blew up? Can he predict the next hit before it reaches mega status? Those are more interesting questions. And the answers are probably no.

    • That’s the for didactic breakdown of what Native is. I’ve written about the topic extensively in these pages, Jerry, and nowhere have I said it is new, or that brand managers need to worry themselves about it.

      My beef with Native is deception. When we call it Advertorial, we make it clear what it is, when we call it nothing and rely on readers to determine what it is, and if it is trustworthy, via a byline, it’s a bad practice.

      Above I said it was a decent development, but I should clarify that what I mean by that. Brand sponsored content is preferred over banner blindness. Manipulative bullshit going by the name of Native can take a hike.

  2. I’m actually a huge fan of BuzzFeed and their model of content, but that’s THEIR brand. Applying someone else’s success to your content strategy would be a ridiculously easy way to bastardize your brand — no matter what their brand is. By nature, thought leadership and discussion-related content is not typically as “viral” in nature as animated GIFs and snarky commentary on politics and journalism … so the metrics for success should be different and personal.

    I watched a speech by BuzzFeed on content for good and their methodology behind content generation and curation — how they get lots of visitors through fun, shareable content for when they share content that matters … and it was actually pretty interesting.

    • Thanks Lizzie for the reminder to remain true to who we are as a publication. “Is it on brand?” This is always the right question to ask. Clearly, animated GIFS are not AdPulp’s thing. So be it 😉
      At the same time, we ow it to ourselves to try new things and work to grow the brand. For instance, I want to incorporate more audio reporting into the mix. And add some new voices, as well, particularly female voices in the industry.